By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 4, 2012

FORTUNE — The return overnight Wednesday of Google’s (GOOG) Street View on Apple’s (AAPL) mobile devices reminds me of what someone once said on seeing a three-legged dog run. The miracle isn’t that it runs well, but that it runs at all.

Street View, of course, is that triumph of brute force data gathering that Google assembled by paying thousands of drivers to log millions of miles going up and down the streets of the world with camera-equipped cars. Street View’s block-by-block panoramic views were one of the great losses — along with dependably accurate street maps — that¬†iPhone and iPad owners suffered three weeks ago when Apple replace Google’s Maps app with its own.

Google is said to be working on a native Maps app that would bring Street View back in all its glory. Meanwhile, it has done the next best thing: Adding Street View to the version of Google Maps that can be reached through a Web browser and installed with a couple of clicks as an icon on the home screen.

Rolling it out in one day was a monumental task, but that’s the kind of challenge Google engineers seem to enjoy.

The only trouble is, what Google delivered was not really Street View, but rather Street View-lite. Users around the would reported Thursday morning that there were big, country-size holes in the data. And even where they had been filled in, Street View was slow, buggy and lacking some of original version’s best features, like the ability to zoom in for a closer look.

What I missed most was what made Street View such a killer iPad demo. To show off the device to someone who had never seen one, you could click on almost any location on any road in America and be offered a street-level view of whatever was there.

In the Web version as it currently functions, you have to start at the address of a known business or public transportation stop and work your way to the address you want to get to. To see my house in Brooklyn, for example, means starting seven blocks away at Yummy Taco on Flatbush Avenue.

Sometimes I can make it before Street View crashes Safari, sometimes I can’t.

But like the three-legged dog, the miracle is that it runs at all.

Thanks to Gary Ng at iPhoneinCanada for spotting it.

You May Like